HH Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.–Matthew 16:18
Christ Wanted to Be Understood
To understand these words aright we must endeavour to recapture the right atmosphere. The words were spoken under intense excitement. The hour had come when our Lord felt it necessary to tell the disciples plainly of His death. So He had led them to the rocky solitudes which lie about the sources of the Jordan. And first, lest the shock should overwhelm them, He set Himself quietly to discover if they had solved the secret of His being. No one will ever triumph in the Cross who has wrong views of the Person of our Lord. In His own beautiful way, He did not begin with that. He began by asking what other people thought. Then, having elicited an answer, He said, “But whom say ye that I am?” And immediately, with glorious insight, in a light that broke on him from heaven, Peter cried, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” To be understood is always sweet, especially after long misapprehension. It is a thrilling hour when one is understood. And so perfectly human was our Lord, that the cry of Peter moved Him to His depths, and stirred Him with profound emotion. The words of Jesus are not a cold pronouncement. They are a glowing and impassioned utterance. They are not a statement of theology; they are the glad cry of a heart. He could face the cross and all its desolation, and be tranquil in His darkest hour, in the assurance that He was understood.
Did Christ Point to Himself When He Said, “Upon This Rock, I Will Build My Church”?
There are two interpretations of these words which I mention only to discard. The first is, that when He said “On this rock,” He pointed with a gesture to Himself. My learned namesake, Dr. Morison, in his quite invaluable Commentaries, is the best-known upholder of this view. But surely it is not like our Lord to convey truth by an unrecorded gesture. When the moving of His hands is eloquent, the Gospel is always careful to portray it. And our Lord was so watchful of His little words that it is incredible He should have said and, when the contrast of the gesture called for but. It is the most profound of truths that the Church is founded upon Christ. It is founded on Him who loved us and who died for us, and who rose again on the third day. But here, in this moment of emotion, our Lord was not thinking of Himself; He was thinking of those who recognise His mystery.
Did He Mean Peter?
With equal conviction do I discard the view that our Lord meant Peter as an individual? With that mystic gaze of His, Peter was the type and representative of multitudes. There are hints in the story (as is so often true) that Peter spoke in the name of the disciples. There flashed into words on his eager lips, the truth that was inarticulate in them. And if there was a gesture of our blessed Lord, was it not rather a waving of His hand over the company gathered at His feet? To them, just as truly as to Peter, Christ was not Jeremiah or Elias. For them, He stood in solitary grandeur, different from and greater than the prophets. And what they all felt in their inmost core, though they could not command speech to utter it, broke into utterance on Peter’s lips. It is incredible that in such high emotion our Lord’s vision should have stopped at Peter. Moved to His very depths He saw in Peter the guarantee and the foretaste of His triumph. He heard in Peter’s cry the voice of millions, echoing through every country of the world, confessing Him and adoring Him as Lord.
“The Rock” Is the Confession of All Who Acknowledge Christ as Lord
So do I hold with a very strong conviction that such was the meaning of our Lord? Peter was the forerunner of confessing and adoring souls. The Church is not founded on an individual, and that individual soon to be called Satan (Matthew 16:23). It is not founded on any form of words, for rock in Scripture is never used of words. The Church is founded on confessing lives, on all those who acknowledge Christ as Lord, and of these Peter is the forerunner. Empires are founded upon force; kingdoms upon mercenary armies. Institutions are founded upon money; secret societies on catchwords. But the Church is founded on living men and women, confessing in gratitude and wonder “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” In the deepest of all senses, the Church is founded upon Christ. But let those who confess His name never forget that it is also founded upon them. Let them see to it that it is not founded upon the sand, blown about by every desert wind. Let them see to it that it is founded upon the rock.
I do believe that Rock is the Revelation of the word which was revealed to Peter reminding him of who Jesus is, the Christ, Son of the Living God.